When I was eighteen, I attended to Bridgton Academy, a post-graduate school in Maine. It was a school designed to help struggling athletes improve their grades before going to college. I wasn’t an athlete. I just didn’t apply myself. I failed a lot of courses in high school so my college prospects were dim. I went to this school so I could to college. I didn’t expect it to change my life.
My English teacher assigned us to read On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I remember rolling my eyes when I saw the cover. The book cover featured a washed-out gritty tire. It looked so unbelievably boring. I wanted to read stories about space marines or wandering barbarians.
I started the book like the pouting teenager I was, refusing to have a good time. But I noticed at once that I enjoyed the writing style. It wasn’t self-important or dry. It was like a guy talking to you across the table, spinning a fantastic yarn. Then it slowly morphed into a story about a group of friends much like my own. The kind of friends who don’t fit in anywhere. The kind of friends who find meaning by moving – always moving. For if you stop for just a second, it all stops. And then it ends.
This book spoke to me like no other had. I found myself racing through the book. Well ahead of the class. Not caring to read for symbols or themes. Just loving the story of the road. The book the siren song of the road itself. I knew I had to travel it just like Jack Kerouac did so many years ago. I knew I had to drink deep into the American landscape.
My personal Dean Moriarity was Jeremy Patterson. I experienced my first real road trips with him and later, we zig and zagged through our friends in some crazy adventures. We grew up together. Best friends in youth.
Our first trip was a four hour drive to to Vermont to pick up my brother. I remember him pointing at the road in front of me. “Look how fast it’s going by us! Just look at the ground.” and when I looked, it felt like we were moving at light speed.
We later drove up a truck ramp. We thought it would be fun just to glide up the ramp for kicks. We were shocked to find the road wasn’t an asphalt road, but it entirely composed of gravel. We were lucky to not have gotten stuck.
Years later, I ended up driving across the country three times. The first time, I drove down to Florida and across to Los Angeles. The second time, I drove from Los Angeles to Alaska and from Alaska to Boston. And my third and final time, I helped my friend drive from Los Angeles and back to Boston.
That last adventure concluded in June of 2006. Not long after our trip, I met my wife and I settled into a new rhythm. My life on the road was over. Sadly, my own Dean Moriarty – my best friend in youth – Jeremy left this world as well. Part of me wants to be poetic about it, but I can’t. I miss him too dearly.
The road still beckons and maybe one day, I’ll ride it again. But for now, it’s wonderful to read the book again and feel that sense of wonder that only an eighteen-year-old can feel when there is nothing but a car and the whole of America in front of them.